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Thousands attended Facebook's Oculus 5 event in San Jose, California this week, and many of them are making games and other content for the platform. But based on conversations with attendees, they are not expecting virtual reality (VR) to become a mainstream phenomenon any time soon, and many are hedging their bets and proceeding with caution.
The main news from the event was the introduction of the Oculus Quest, formerly known by the code-name "Santa Cruz." Developers and VR enthusiasts have been anticipating this standalone VR headset, which Facebook has positioned as being as portable and affordable as a mobile VR experience (like the inexpensive devices that rely on a smartphone), but nearly as powerful as a PC-powered headset. It will go on sale in early 2019 for $399.
Developers at the event were cautiously optimistic about the Quest, while acknowledging that Oculus, and VR in general, will have to overcome some hurdles before becoming a mainstream phenomenon.
"We all know it's a long game because VR is continuing to grow," said Mark Pacini, game director of Armature, a game studio that developed an Oculus-funded demo for the Quest. "It's really tough, but I think the Quest has a good chance."
Damon Grow, co-founder of San Francisco's Superstar Games, said he was impressed with the Oculus Quest and believes it is a step in the right direction. Superstar previously developed games for VR, but the company shifted its focus toward developing mobile-based augmented reality games last summer after struggling to gain traction with VR. Grow said Superstar will wait to see the Quest take off before shifting his focus back toward VR.
"People have been burned a bit, so we're going to be more cautious," Grow said. "We have investors, and they want to see returns and revenue."
Grow said he believes Oculus will need to land a must-have piece of content that draws in casual users before it reaches a mass market.
"There's a lot of startups making high-quality content, but unless you have that one big franchise game that'll make people go to Best Buy and stand in line," Grow said. "Unless you really have something like that, you're still going to struggle."
Despite the lack of killer titles, developers said they were impressed with the Quest's lack of cables, ease-of-use and its $399 price point.
"It's at least a thousand dollars less than a PC-based VR," said David Sarno, founder of Lighthaus, a startup that creates VR content for education in science and healthcare. The Quest is "starting to get into the range of schools, universities and hospitals where you can buy 10 or 50 of them at once without it being a crippling expense."
For now, developers aren't expecting VR to become a mainstream success anytime soon
"We're going to stay lean for a while," said Helen Situ, chief executive of Moment, a New York startup whose tech helps developers create 3-D designs within VR.
"We understand that we're not building for a return within the next six months," she said. "We're building toward a longer future."